Two days after President Trump told Ohio supporters that “we are throwing MS-13 the hell out of here so fast,” Thursday’s White House press briefing began with statements and remarks from Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Robert K. Hur and acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Thomas Homan—both of whom vowed to continue the government’s targeting of Central American gangs.
The appearance at the White House by Hur and Homan is a leadup to a Friday visit by President Trump to Long Island, where several MS-13 members were recently arrested for five murders, and a trip by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to El Salvador.
Calling MS-13 a “group of thugs,” Hur said that the Justice Department is “moving forward aggressively” against the gang. These policies, he said, include the prioritization of gang members in prosecutions, recommendations for 300 more prosecutors to focus on criminal immigration enforcement and cross-national cooperation with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. It is estimated that there are about 10,000 MS-13 gang members in the United States.
“We are also holding sanctuary cities accountable for their lawless conduct,” Hur said. “The Attorney General will not allow sanctuary cities to become sanctuaries for criminals.” Hur then referred to a recent DOJ decision to withhold federal funding from cities that will not honor ICE detainers.
Homan referred to a recent operation that he said led to the arrests of more than 1,000 gang members. He also took questions from reporters after his statements, saying that ICE is not targeting immigrant communities in their gang operations.
“ICE prioritizes our arrests based on criminal threats, national security, those who violate immigration laws,” Homan said. “However, if they’re a victim or a witness, we’re not out looking for victims or witnesses. I believe, especially MS-13, they victimize they very communities in which they live. So if the immigrant community is being victimized, they don’t want [MS–13] in the community either. They should be safe to go to law enforcement, report the crime.”
He also blamed sanctuary cities for causing more crime in communities and not less.
“Sanctuary cities are criminals’ biggest friends,” Homan said. “If you’re an alien smuggler, and you’re smuggling people in this country for a living, that’s one sales pitch. We can get you to a sanctuary city, where that city will help shield you from Immigration. I’ve said it every time I speak: sanctuary cities need to help us to keep their communities safe. Sanctuary cities are not only a danger to public safety, they endanger my law enforcement officers because when we can’t get a criminal, violent alien out of a county jail, it means one of our officers has to… will knock on the door, which anybody in law enforcement knows, that’s one of the most dangerous thing to do… so rather than arresting a violent criminal in the safety, security and privacy of a county jail, we got to go knock on the door. We go to arrest them in the community. The community’s put at risk. Our officers are put at risk. And the alien himself is put at risk. We got to start thinking about public safety and the men and women of ICE, and the men and women of the Border Patrol, who we’ve lost many over the last few years at the hands of violent, criminal aliens. We got to join forces with these cities. These cities have to come to us. They have to work with us to keep our community safe.”
A full transcript of the July 27 press briefing can be found here.
“Like the President, the ICE czar is trying to rule by fear. He wants citizens to be scared of immigrants. He wants immigrants to be frightened by law enforcement,” Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. “And now he wants mayors and governors to be fearful of federal government recriminations.”
Most city mayors and law enforcement officials have gone on record in the past to say that cities do cooperate with ICE, but believe that some of the agency’s use of detainers does not comply with federal immigration law—a point the highest court in Massachusetts ruled on earlier this week.
Neither Hur nor Homan dug deep into the origins of Central American gangs, points rarely discussed when enforcement priorities are brought up. Last year, Latino USA presented those origins in a segment:
In addition, a recent study interviewed several Central American gang members and concluded that separation from these gangs is possible and does not necessarily have to involve stricter law enforcement.